Tag Archives: Kaisa McCrow

How Street Roots, vendors give perspective

SR vendor coordinators, left, right Art Garcia, Becky Mullins, Kaisa McCrow, center

by Kaisa McCrow, Contribuing Writer

I’ve always believed that everyone has a story to tell. Each person’s life has diversity and magnitude, regardless of their experience as rich or poor, well traveled or homebody, straight or gay, redneck or radical. What we share is the uniqueness of our experiences as we work our way through this world. If we’re lucky, we may be able to share these experiences with someone else.

Over the last several months I have found myself in a position to celebrate the diversity of the human experience. I have been interviewing Street Roots vendors and writing their profiles for the newspaper. It is a lucky and humble place to find oneself; perpetually at the mercy of a new perspective or lesson afforded by each vendor’s life. I’ve had ideas about what it means to be homeless; what it means to have or have not. Yet interviewing vendors has taught me so much more, simply by listening and drawing out pieces of an individual’s narrative.

The Street Roots motto is “for those who can’t afford free speech.” The content and investigative journalism in the paper provides stories regarding marginalized communities, inequality, systemic abuses, addiction, etc. It brings clarity to political wranglings over budgets and often complex systems that are difficult for people to understand. The newspaper asks what the need is, who the needy are, and what they look like. Street Roots is also a platform for individuals to publish their voices through poems, editorials, and opinions. It connects the Portland community with each picture, heartfelt poem, and customized cartoon. If the investigative journalism of the paper uncovers the way people are being marginalized, the personal side of the paper reminds us that we are all the same. Continue reading

Dancing on Belmont with the hottest news in town

By Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer

The Walgreen’s on Southeast Belmont sits on the east side of 39th. The busy road becomes a heavily car-trafficked cut-off from the bars, shops, and foot traffic west of there. It’s quiet in the warm morning sun, and Street Roots vendor Jeffrey McCall steps in and out of the sun, taking shade under the covered area of the store entrance. After six months of working this spot, he has built a comfortable relationship with Walgreen’s, so standing on the property is permitted in his case, a nice relief for summer days. He shifts his weight back and forth, foot-to-foot, bouncing in and out of the shade in a slow, repetitive rhythm. One of his regulars dubbed him “the dancer,” because of this constant motion, an unconscious habit formed to alleviate the strain of a life spent working on his feet. On this hot summer morning, he seems to be swaying to the pace of the July day.

He says that he doesn’t feel all that removed from the crowds on Belmont and Hawthorne on this side of 39th. In fact, he has pretty steady business, a slew of regular clientele, and a great relationship with the staff and management at Walgreen’s. He has friends in this part of southeast, and the area has grown into something of a niche for him and others. In the course of our conversation, two Street Roots vendors stop by, (one of them is the vendor who first connected Jeffrey to Street Roots) and invites him to a 4th of July barbecue. We also chat at length with Steve, a regular from the neighborhood, who regaled us with jokes and stories of his military days. Continue reading

SR vendor profile: Affirming patience, one day at a time

Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer

Between the rush of car traffic and building construction on 26th and Hawthorne, Robert Millhouse sells Street Roots. The corner is near a bank parking lot, not a coffee shop, or a grocery or bookstore, as is typical for most vendors. It is hard to capture the demographic that traverses this part of the well-known Portland street, not quite far enough up the numbered streets to be hipster hangout, not close enough to the river for cross-neighborhood bike traffic. Instead, there is the bustle of bank goers and the noise of the nearby Safeway reconstruction. Maybe not the stereotypical Portland street corner, yet it suits Robert. He doesn’t consider himself a true “Portlander” anyway. Robert was born in Alabama, but moved to Oregon with his mother and father at age six. He was raised in Pentecostal home, and his parents were strict; if he wasn’t at school he was at church, and he went to both five times a week. Continue reading

Vendor profile: The new face on the block

By Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer

The corner of NW Lovejoy and 11th Avenue where Starbucks is located doesn’t quite pick up foot traffic until noon, when the sun finally hits that side of the pavement.  The tall Pearl District buildings make it a fairly shady corner and according to Jason, the Street Roots vendor who sells there, “the windiest corner in Portland.” He wears a jacket, gloves and scarf to sell the paper, because even on a nice day the shade can get chilly. Jason is new to this corner, less than a month in, so he is still trying to make himself at home. Continue reading

Vendor profile: Making each day better than the ones before

By Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer

It’s a sunny day on NE 15th Avenue and Broadway when Street Roots vendor Raymond Thornton and I sit down to chat outside of Peet’s Coffee. People are walking their dogs, enjoying coffee outside, and generally greeting the day with enthusiasm. Raymond is no exception; he thanks God for the day, for the evidence of spring, and for the good workday the sunshine is offering him. He loves working at this spot, and not just on the beautiful sunny days. Raymond has been selling outside of this Pete’s Coffee corner for roughly two months now, and he has become a part of this corner’s “circle of friends.” A woman and her dog stop by for a hello and a pat, Raymond knows both of their names and greets them excitedly. An elderly man makes his way by our table and before he can speak Raymond beats him to it, “I owe you a paper, sir!” Continue reading

Hard work, high energy means a ticket home

By Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer

Dymar Blanton sells Street Roots outside of Voodoo Donuts, a spacious corner on Second Avenue and Burnside, a mini downtown center. Groups of people, mainly tourists and Saturday Market goers, can spend a serious chunk of their Saturday in line for these famous donuts. For Dymar, this means that instead of people coming and going, maybe stopping for a second to buy a Street Roots on their way to the grocery store, he sells to a slowly creeping line of the same hungry, fried-dessert-seeking faces. With a crowd this tough, he has to stay on his game, as people are likely to hear him trying to sell a paper three or more times while they wait. Luckily, Dymar is neither short on energy nor information. He is slight in stature, and wears thick glasses that he has needed since birth. Recently, he spent six months without his glasses, living life on the streets virtually blind, which for most is an unfathomable feat. He circles the periphery of the donut line offering tidbits about the paper, singing songs, and good naturedly heckling people when appropriate. Continue reading

Vendor Profile: Loving Portland through Jenni’s eyes

Street Roots vendor Jenni sells outside of Zupan's at Belmont and 33rd Avenue.

By Kaisa McCrow
Contributing Writer

Jenni, a petite woman with short hair and an endearing smile, describes her post selling Street Roots outside of the Zupan’s on Belmont and 33rd as the location for the happiest shoppers in Portland. This seems to delight her, and she describes the area as a “super neighborhood,” where everyone is smiling and with beautiful children and dogs, carrying flowers and enjoying life. In Jenni’s Portland, people seem to be happy, the forests are beautiful, and there is space for any kind of person to find peace and home. Jenni moved here two years ago from Michigan with her best friend and traveling partner Justin. They had already been close for years when together they decided to sell everything that they owned and venture west. They say it took 5-6 months of saving money, a lot of soul-searching and one-way Amtrak tickets to get both of them to leave behind the only home either of them knew for Oregon.

Jenni described Michigan as a much harsher place to live. She experienced more violence there and recalls getting held up at gun point, on her birthday no less. The dangerous environment, coupled with a bad economy and a desire for adventure, led her and Justin through the mountains on a two-day train trip with the few things left that they owned. It was a beautiful way to travel and Jenni describes the trip as gorgeous, barring the less than inspiring scenery in North Dakota. Traveling in March at the end of winter, the pair began to feel panicked as they approached Oregon with the scenery around them still covered in snow. They began to rethink their little tent and lack of winter gear, sprouting final seeds of doubt and cold feet after nearly half a year of preparation. The image of arriving in a city blanketed by snow, with no home or possessions was nerve-wracking and scary. To their happy relief, they pulled into Portland’s downtown train station to greet an unseasonably nice, 65-degree day, just the greeting they needed to start over in this new city.

Continue reading

Vendor profile: A student of the streets

If you have been short on good conversation for a while, head to NW 23rd Avenue and Thurman Street to buy a Street Roots. Terris, the vendor that sells on this corner in front of Food Front, seems to have a talking point for anything, whether it be theories of eco-psychology, gaming , how to end homelessness, or recommending your next good read. At the onset of a conversation with Terris, his articulate speech and keen sense of self are striking- this man knows he is a born thinker and intellectual, and he’ll get you on his side of that argument in minutes.

Terris doesn’t just know a lot of facts, he has a lot of ideas, and they are good ones. Straight away, we began discussing the meaning of the word “home.” He immediately challenges the commonly held assumption that simply having a house equals having a “home.” Although Terris grew up in Portland and Vancouver, WA and did not begin experiencing homelessness until he was an adult, he says in many ways he did not have a “home,” at all while growing up. His parents divorced when he was 18 months old, and his entire childhood was spent shuffling back and forth between them, unstable and consistently uprooted. Now, although he “sleeps outside” — his preferred terminology when referring to homelessness — Terris will tell you with conviction that Portland is his home.

And all signs point to this being true. Terris is ingrained in this community. He is not only active with Street Roots but also with Home PDX, a non-traditional church group that meets under the Hawthorne Bridge and is active in the community of people who sleep outside. When asked if he was religious, Terris referred to a broad definition of spirituality, focusing on a message of love and acceptance of people from all walks of life.

“Jesus was a bum,” he says plainly, when discussing Christianity. “He was homeless. He slept outside.” In this way, Terris says, he can consider himself a follower of Christ, and he uses this outlook to discuss how he believes we should be helping the less fortunate. “If you want to be like Jesus, don’t go somewhere and tell people they should come up. Go and accept them for who they are.” Terris believes this, and he practices his belief with dedication to his community and with love and respect for everyone that he meets. “Love everybody. It can be a challenge. Stop looking at people as having faults, but instead … as challenges.” He explains that this outlook will allow people to look at both themselves and others with more hope and possibility.

This perspective is possibly what makes Terris so good at selling Street Roots, which he has been doing for roughly a month now. He has been quick to excel. He says that he is just getting to the point where he is learning the faces of his regulars and in true Portland fashion, the names of all their dogs.

Despite the sense of community Terris has found in Portland, he isn’t romanticizing about the hardships that he has faced in his life. Experiencing homelessness is his reality, and it is a harsh one. “In the city you are overwhelmed; you are bombarded by stimuli,” he explains. “We have less barriers between us and the city than most people do.” He goes on to say that when you sleep outside, you are still surrounded by the same “city-noise” and chaos as everyone else, only there is no escape, no respite, no place to retreat to. “The sounds of the city when you are outside will drive you crazy,” he says.

In his perfect world, Terris would live away from the city, perhaps somewhere along the Gorge, near Hood River. He imagines a smaller, simpler community; in his version of the world, he would be the village blacksmith. It’s a nice dream, and none of Terris’ dreams are something to shake a stick at. He wants to attend PCC, then PSU, and finally, Lewis and Clark to get a master’s degree. His goal is to study psychology and then eco-psychology, which studies the way environment affects the psyche. The experiences Terris has had on the streets richly inform these studies. We talked at length about how eco-psychology critiques “symptom-focused” cultures. Homelessness is a perfect example. Terris says that the existence of homelessness is not the problem itself, but a symptom of a bigger problem. Terris sees himself as fully engaged in trying to open the eyes of others to these kinds of misconceptions, and hopes that his education will make this more possible.

In the meantime, Terris can’t help but continue to learn, to read, to excite, to discuss anyway — it is his baser nature. He is thinker, a poet, an educator and a community member. He believes that in addition to choosing to love all people, a good education for every person is fundamental to heal society and to make people active participants in finding real solutions to homelessness. He wants that education. Until he can get it though, he’ll continue to curl up with a good book on his days off, and to engage in a kind of learning that doesn’t come from school. Anyone can experience some of that learning from Terris while he is working outside of Food Front, just one corner of Terris’ city-wide home.

Sit-lie law moves along

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Seven months into the enforcement of Portland’s Sidewalk Management Ordinance, there are no lawsuits festering in the wings, no major protests at City Hall, and little in terms of social discourse under the banner of civil rights violations. The absence is notable considering that this plan, which regulates sitting and lying on public sidewalks, was born of nearly a decade of sit-lie regulations drawing all of the above.

Unlike similar city efforts in the past, which essentially prohibited sitting or lying on sidewalks downtown wholesale, the complete sidewalk management plan includes an agenda of actions to alleviate sidewalk problems. It includes a regular, open forum called the Public Sidewalk Management Advisory Committee, with business representatives, community advocates, representatives of city commissioners, police, and anyone interested in attending. As both a watchdog and sounding board for the ordinance, the advisory committee meets monthly to discuss sidewalk management and the ordinance’s performance, under the oversight of Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

“As a participant and an advocate, I always thought the previous ones were unconstitutional because there wasn’t anywhere on downtown sidewalks where people could sit or lie if they didn’t have a place to go, and this ordinance expressly allows people to do that.”

So far, she says, it seems to be working.

“I’m getting far fewer angry messages from all sides,” Fritz says. Fritz says she still gets some messages from tourists who complain about panhandlers, and the local community understands the challenges and is “moving in the right direction,” but that they will always have to contend with more challenges and limited resources. Continue reading

Vendor profile: A star is born at 10th and Burnside

By Kaisa McCrow, Contributing Writer

To meet George, a Street Roots seller outside of Powell’s Bookstore on Burnside, is an opportunity to experience a theatrical sales pitch for living a good life. Encounter him on your way into Powell’s and you will likely hear him shouting something to the effect of, “Street Roots, it’s the Hollywood Gazette of homeless newspapers. Only we have a crossword puzzle and we’re cheaper.” Whatever his pitch, he delivers it quickly and effortlessly, a true actor and salesman. George is good at grabbing people’s attention with witty, colorful remarks that elicit smiles all around, and he loves what he does. George is definitely a salesman, and though technically it is a paper that he is selling, customers walk away with something more. Hopefully, according to George, what they walk away with is a day made a little brighter.

George grew up in Modesto, Calif., and received his bachelor’s degree in communication studies, including theater and business studies,from San Jose University. Later, he spent time in San Francisco where he worked as a waiter, model and actor before making his way up to Oregon, working as an apartment and property manager and a handyman. During this time, George experienced the hardships of homelessness, which shaped a lot of the way he sees the world today. It has given him a hard work ethic — he says he initially sold Street Roots for 14 hours a day to get on his feet — and a passion for believing in the good in people. “I never met a person I didn’t like,” says George, meaning that you can always find something good in someone if you choose to look for it. Continue reading